The Ten Commandments is a 1956 American epic religious drama film produced, directed, and narrated by Cecil B. DeMille, shot in VistaVision (color by Technicolor), and released by Paramount Pictures. Based on the 1949 novel Prince of Egypt by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, the 1859 novel Pillar of Fire by J. H. Ingraham, the 1937 novel On Eagle’s Wings by A. E. Southon, and the Book of Exodus, The Ten Commandments dramatizes the biblical story of the life of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, the enslaved Hebrews, and thereafter leads the Exodus to Mount Sinai, where he receives, from God, the Ten Commandments. The film stars Charlton Heston in the lead role, Yul Brynner as Rameses, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Debra Paget as Lilia, and John Derek as Joshua; and features Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Seti I, Nina Foch as Bithiah, Martha Scott as Yochabel, Judith Anderson as Memnet, and Vincent Price as Baka, among others.
Filmed on location in Egypt, Mount Sinai, and the Sinai Peninsula, The Ten Commandments was DeMille’s most successful work, his first widescreen film, his fourth biblical production, and his final directorial effort before his death in 1959. It is a remake of the prologue of his 1923 silent film of the same title, and features one of the largest exterior sets ever created for a motion picture. Four screenwriters, three art directors, and five costume designers worked on the film. The interior sets were constructed on Paramount’s Hollywood soundstages. The original roadshow version included an onscreen introduction by DeMille and was released to cinemas in the United States on November 8, 1956, and, at the time of its release, was the most expensive film ever made.
In 1957, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (John P. Fulton, A.S.C.). DeMille won the Foreign Language Press Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director. Charlton Heston was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Drama). Yul Brynner won the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor for this film, as well as for Anastasia and The King and I. Heston, Anne Baxter, and Yvonne De Carlo won Laurel Awards for Best Dramatic Actor, 5th Best Dramatic Actress, and 3rd Best Supporting Actress, respectively. It is also one of the most financially successful films ever made, grossing approximately $122.7 million at the box office during its initial release; it was the most successful film of 1956 and the second-highest-grossing film of the decade. According to Guinness World Records, in terms of theatrical exhibition, it is the eighth most successful film of all-time when the box office gross is adjusted for inflation.
In 1999, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its “Ten Top Ten“—the best ten films in ten American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The film was listed as the tenth best film in the epic genre. US Network television has aired the film in prime time during the Passover/Easter season every year since 1973.